use it or lose it?

Bij sphbr at cf.ac.uk
Fri Jun 16 20:19:33 EST 1995


Hello!

A question has been lingering in head and I wonder if any research or
reason can resolve it.

Introduction

It is well established that our bodies adapt to their environment; muscles
develop when they are exercised, people living at high altitudes have
higher haemoglobin levels and other senses sharpen when one sense is lost
or diminished.

I even know a formerly asthmatic flute teacher whose condition improved
after regular flute practice. She has also observed many cases of similar
improvement in her asthmatic pupils. She was originally perscribed
bronchodilators only.  The number of asthma sufferers has been rising and
as has the number of bronchodilator perscriptions. A few years ago an
article was published in TIPS suggesting a cause and effect relationship
between the two. This makes sense because clearly, bronchoconstriction
is a logical response to reduce the entry of an allergen which is stimulating
a hypersensitive (paranoid) immune system to overreact and create a
situation where the risk:benefit ratio is higher than is acceptable.
Bronchodilators would simply cause more of the offending agent into the
lungs and the immune system continues to try to eliminate the allergen,
causing greater tissue damage in the process and not allowing the tissues
to recover. I think that the immune system must be given time to learn to
cope. Anti-inflammatories, on the other hand, could reduce the immune
reaction to a less auto-toxic level and prevent further tissue damage. With
my flute-teacher friend, the combination of breath control exercises and
the anti-inflammatories that she requested appear to have cured her
problem. (Sorry, asthma is one of my pet interests and I seem to have been
side-tracked a bit)

Finally (for the introduction), I have heard of a new kind of malady which
seems to be associated with living in near-sterile conditions.

THE QUESTION

Can anyone point to any relevant research papers linking over-cleanliness
with an underactive immune system?

Secondly, does it not make sense that if our bodies can adapt to their
environment by develping those facilities that are exercised most, then the
same should hold for the immune system?

If at the first sign of a problem we pump ourselves full of antibiotics and the
like, how can we expect to have (for want of a better word) an experienced
immune system? This raises another question: If we are to allow our bodies
to try to cope (particularly from a young age) then at what point should we
intervene, expecting that the immune system will not be able to cope?

Discussion

Immunology is not my field, I would therefore appreciate it if some of you in
the know could enlighten me as to whether or not you think that the points
I have made are valid.

Thanks.

Bijan Riazi-Farzad



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